Alex Rodriguez’s Yankees mega-contract isn’t cautionary Aaron Judge tale

Adam Weinrib
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 06: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees waves to the crowd during the New York Yankees World Series Victory Celebration at City Hall on November 6, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 06: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees waves to the crowd during the New York Yankees World Series Victory Celebration at City Hall on November 6, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Alex Rodriguez’s World Series-interrupting opt-out in 2007 triggered a fervent response from George Steinbrenner, who bossed his way to the front of the line, knowing full well his stagnant lineup could not afford to lose its MVP.

In the long run, the Rodriguez contract aged poorly, as every long-term contract ever has. These are deals you make, though, to hold onto a player’s peak, especially if you’re a financial behemoth like the Yankees.

In other words, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could not pay for Albert Pujols’ regression. They made a catastrophic blunder. The Yankees? They can pay for anything and everything. They always have. When push comes to shove, they always will. They might hem and haw, but they’ll find a way. Even now, the most tight-fisted modern version of this team we’ve ever seen has accepted the necessity of paying for Giancarlo Stanton’s and Gerrit Cole’s later years.

Both of those deals are probably more foolhardy than a theoretical Aaron Judge contract that will take the slugger through, let’s say, age 38. Stanton was already injury-prone when the Yankees risked it all (risked very little prospect capital and a good deal of finances, to be specific) to acquire him, and pitchers break down more often than not.

With a potentially monstrous payday looming for Judge, coming off an MVP win, a fleet of detractors have taken to Twitter this week to remind fans of that 2007-08 offseason, when retaining A-Rod felt just as essential, only for things to eventually go awry.

The one caveat there? Things certainly didn’t go awry in 2009, when Rodriguez famously reversed his postseason course and delivered the Yankees a title, something that would not have happened without him. Things also went awry for a number of nefarious reasons, complications only Rodriguez could bring about.

Yankees’ 2007 Alex Rodriguez contract was worth 2009 World Series

Ignoring the multiple steroid scandals to come and who peed on whose carpet for a second, Judge and Rodriguez entered their free agencies with similar resumés, though A-Rod’s was longer. Both were peaking, offensively and defensively. Both were (almost) the sole providers for their Yankee teams entering the offseason. Both were also dogged as postseason wannabes who disappeared when the lights turned bright.

Rodriguez’s 2009 season proved the exact opposite: that postseason reputations can turn on a dime. It only takes one elite October to erase that criticism forever, and without Rodriguez, the Yankees are currently title-less since 2000. That’s why you can’t be afraid to bet on talent, especially if you’re one of very few teams able to stretch your budget.

The 2009 Yankees were carried by Rodriguez, but they also likely don’t win the title without Hideki Matsui, on a long-term contract that delivered an excellent role player, but not the 60-homer superstar who was promised. He also lost much of 2006 and 2008 to injuries. They don’t win without Mark Teixeira, the textbook definition of a “bad contract”; he regressed almost immediately after ’09, nearly disappearing after 2012. They don’t win without AJ Burnett, who never pitched well again in pinstripes after Game 2 of the World Series — a crucial win.

None of those four contracts delivered the maximum promised value by Year 7, or even by Year 2. But the Yankees don’t take home their legacy-saving most recent title without them. Aaron Judge may never deliver New York the October glory the city’s been lusting for. But without him, those chances diminish significantly in 2023 and 2024.

2028 could be damned either way. Plan for tomorrow to the best of your ability, but Stanton and Cole will already be locked down. Play for today.

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